9/5/2012 2:12 PM ET|
Where your lost luggage goes
What's in store
The huge store is laid out (.pdf file) a bit like a department store, with items grouped by category: electronics, luggage and sporting goods, women's apparel, men's apparel, children's clothing and formal wear. Clothing items are sorted by type and color. A cafe and espresso bar sits near the main entrance, and an annex across the parking lot offers gifts, housewares, health and beauty items, hardware and tools.
"When people hear about Unclaimed Baggage, they expect it to be a great big thrift store, but it's as nice as any department store I've been in," says Garner, the Scottsboro shopper who found the ukulele.
The store stocks 5,000 to 7,000 new items daily, Monday through Saturday. On one recent day, the store had the following in stock:
- A Selmer clarinet for $2,499.99
- A handful of Apple iPads and iPods for about 20% below retail
- An oil painting titled "Sunny Autumn" by Leonid Afremov, priced at $250.99 (estimated gallery value: $1,400)
- A pearl- and glass-beaded wedding dress, size 8, for $149.99 (estimated value: $300 to $500)
- A 1.60-carat diamond, 18-karat white gold ring for $6,500.99 (worth approximately $13,000)
Of course, a number of one-of-a-kind items that come through the warehouse are a better fit for the center's museum than the buying shelves. Some of the most unusual:
- A set of bagpipes
- The skin of an 8½-foot boa constrictor
- Hoggle from the movie "Labyrinth," a puppet created at Henson's Creative Workshop
- A half-dozen matching Vegas-showgirl costumes with headpieces, in several sizes
- A 4½-foot-wide moose rack
- Traditional instruments from Afghanistan, Tibet and Russia
- A 19th-century replica suit of armor
- An 8-foot remote-controlled model airplane
"Nothing surprises us anymore," Cantrell insists. "You kind of chuckle, but you get past the 'I don't believe it' phase. You just about see it all through here."
There's still some wonder in her voice as she describes the sheer volume of certain types of items. Wedding dresses, for example. "You don't know if they were on their way to the wedding or from the wedding," Cantrell says.
Except for special events, such as the annual ski sale every November, the store puts goods on the floor as quickly as possible after acquiring them. But because the bags have already been with the airline for at least 90 days, clothes may be from last season, and recovered beach reads may no longer be on the best-seller list.
What's not in the store
Some lost luggage goes unclaimed because its owners might fear prosecution if they asked for its return. Cantrell says UBC employees have found illegal drugs stashed in the linings of suitcases or hidden inside toiletries. "People hide stuff, and they've gotten very creative and have gone to great lengths," she says.
Contraband aside, less than half of what the company acquires actually makes it onto the sales floor. Although some people pack their best clothes and new purchases in their checked luggage, a lot of bags contain well-worn clothing -- some of it dirty -- and personal items that no one else would want, Cantrell explains. Some things are thrown away, but most that is salvageable goes to people in need, as does apparel that has been on the sales floor for 60 to 90 days.
"We donate a substantial amount to charitable organizations," she says. "We try to be very intentional with our giving."
The company donates car seats, strollers and luggage to the Department of Human Resources for foster kids; wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and canes to a program called Wheels for the World; and clothing and other items to the Salvation Army's Disaster Relief program, a thrift store in nearby Huntsville and a local pregnancy center. Prescription eyeglasses are donated to the Lions Club Sight First program, which distributes glasses to humanitarian eye clinics around the world.
"It gives you a really great feeling to know what was lost is now found in somebody else's possession," Cantrell says.
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The brand ambassador believes part of the reason the UBC has strong relationships with its airline partners is the company's values. "Other people have tried to enter the (unclaimed baggage) marketplace, but nobody can compare to what we bring to the table," she says.
What if I find my lost luggage?
If you're wondering whether the Kindle you accidentally left in the seatback of 23D on your recent flight from Dallas to Chicago somehow ended up in Alabama, don't hold your breath.
In 42 years, the UBC has had only one verifiable story about a customer who found a lost item -- and he didn't come looking for it.
"A gentleman came in and bought a pair of ski boots for $45 for his wife, and he took them home, and she said, 'These look very familiar,'" Cantrell says. "She looked inside, and her maiden name was in there." By pure chance, the man had repurchased a pair of boots his wife had lost years earlier.
"There's other quirky things," Cantrell says, "but that's the only documented case we have."
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Who knew? I thought lost luggage went to the same place as my socks that disappear from the dryer.
So where do the socks go?
Put it in you checked bag.
Make sure to tell the counter personnel checking you in that you have "a pistol" in your bag.
THAT requires a special T.S.A. lock to be placed on your bag & they will monitor it from point A to point B like a hawk!
You'll find your luggage waiting for you at your destination every time.
I do not enjoy reading about what they do with items lost because of how the airlines has handled your luggage. United lost my luggage twice in on month. Gave me a 800 number that was in Indonensia and all they had was a computer and kept telling me the same thing over and over. Now I read that they then sell my items in Alabama. Those are my things and they belong to me.
I had all the identification on them and in them. I am very angry that this is taken so lightly. For those of you who have had lost luggage that you never see again, I hope you also write, the airlines does not try to find you, that is just a misleading statement. United just gave me a tooth brush while I stayed in California for three days on my why to Washington. I asked :"What about underwear and sleepwear"? I was told that was all they would do. No one paid me for my lost luggage but they sell them to a store in Alabama to sell my possessions? This is just wrong and from now on I will just do carry on! Of course they will start charging for that because the airlines always covers their butt and the public is the ones that have no one to protect them from the airlines and their uncarrying of public feelings. Shame on you, we pay for our ticket and then the airlines is paid for our lost luggage, what a racket, Arlene Shaffer
I think this story I read awhile back might be approiate here. It goes as follows: This lady dropped her wedding rings down the sink. After much searching someone said to call the sewer department. The sewer department actually found the rings. So this gentlemen reading the article said since the airlines lose baggage that has enough information on it to commit iidenty theft, maybe we need to put the sewer department in charge of airline luggage. Sounds reasonab;e to me!
I lost my golf clubs on a United flight from Chicago to Houston on Aug. 25. Filed a report with the authorities 20 minutes after flight landed. Two days later CCTV caught thief on tape stealing five sets of golf clubs & a mountian bike. Common sense would say that the thief had been stealing items long before he was noticed on CCTV. Thief has not been arrested however his picture was on two of the local TV stations. I have been going around & around with United, making phone calls, filing paperwork, etc. After I finally got through to a real live person, United is now telling me it will be 8-10 weeks before the lost luggage claim will be processed. United will never get another $$$ out of me.
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